Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?

  • Date:
    March 1, 2005
    Review by:
    Polly Wittenberg

    Review by Polly Wittenberg

    Written by: Edward Albee
    Directed by: Anthony Page
    Cast: Kathleen Turner (Martha), Bill Irwin (George), David Harbour (Nick), Mireille Enos (Honey)
    Synopsis: A night of fun and drinks for two college professors (one old, one new) and their wives turns into an emotional and psychological nightmare. A caustic look at marriage and relationships.


    Review by Polly Wittenberg

    In the 1966 movie of Edward Albee�s 'Who�s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?', Elizabeth Taylor played Martha, the menopausal daughter of a New England college president who subjects her professor husband George and a younger faculty couple to a macabre evening of games like �Humiliate the Host� and �Get the Guest�. Taylor was 34 at the time and (despite putting on considerable weight for the role) clearly not the 6 years older than her George (hubby Richard Burton) that the script calls for. Taylor as Martha vented her anger and frustration by screeching. She won an Oscar for the role.

    On stage, Martha was been played memorably by the likes of Uta Hagen, Colleen Dewhurst and Diana Rigg, all of whom were older and more refined but just as monstrous in the part. The current Broadway revival stars Kathleen Turner who continues in the stage tradition. She is middle-aged, zaftig-sexy, has a wonderfully husky voice and a laugh as smooth as honey. Whether she is pronouncing her home a �dump� or her husband a �flop� or declaring that �I�m loud and I�m vulgar and I wear the pants--somebody�s got to�, she�s a pleasure to listen to and to watch. It�s a Tony-worthy performance.

    Casting comedian Bill Irwin as George is somewhat of a novelty. In an ill-fitting gray sweater vest, he looks more like a skinny displaced farm boy than the intellectually arrogant history professor depicted by Burton, or Arthur Hill or David Suchet in previous incarnations of George. But Irwin is very good at conveying the character�s passive aggression in murmuring various threats under his breath before quickly lashing out at Martha by, for example, attempting to choke her to death, and just as quickly reverting to his mask of civility. His timing in a hilarious monologue recounting to the visitors his long and disastrous life with Martha or a sadder one about the loss of their son is impeccable.

    Tall, blond David Harbour is fine as Nick the visiting biology professor, an ex-frat boy whose primary ambition is to get ahead by �plowing pertinent wives.� He�s a perfect foil for the total war that�s going on between George and Martha. You can really see him cringe when Martha pulls on his tie to get him to give her a kiss. The primary function of Nick�s wife Honey, well played by Mireille Enos, is to comment on the action from inside a drunken stupor.

    As directed by Anthony Page on a very brown set by John Lee Beatty, the show is full of good touches like the scene where Nick hauls Honey across the stage under his arm and plops her, like a rag doll, into a chair. If Albee�s play were set in 2005, instead of the 1950s, the hellish marriage of George and Martha would long ago have ended in divorce. To understand why that�s probably not a bad thing, go see Turner and Irwin slug it out at the Longacre.

    Polly Wittenberg


    What the critics had to say.....

    BEN BRENTLEY of the NEW YORK TIMES says �Pulse-racing revival.�
    HOWARD KISSEL of NEW YORK DAILY NEWS says it �It is a thrilling evening of theater.�
    CLIVE BARNES of NEW YORK POST says "A scorching, exhilarating revival."
    ELYSA GARDNER of USA TODAY says "Wouldn't advise trying to throw a party like the one that these four stumble through. But as domestic nightmares go, this Virginia Woolf offers more entertainment and insight than anything you're likely to experience at home."
    LINDA WINER of NEWSDAY says "A thrilling dissection of the complexities of coupling.�
    JACQUES LE SOURD of The Journal News says "Kathleen Turner alone, stumbling around the stage and braying Albee's lines in her signature foghorn voice, is very well worth the price of admission."
    MICHAEL SOMMERS of STAR-LEDGER says "It's a savagely funny event in three knockout rounds."
    MICHAEL KUCHWARA of ASSOCIATED PRESS says "A superb evening of theater."
    FRANK SCHECK THE HOLLYWOOD REPORTER says "Despite the best efforts of its leading lady, never quite attains the galvanizing intensity it so desperately needs."

    External links to full reviews from newspapers

    New York Times
    New York Daily News
    New York Post
    USA Today
    Newsday
    Journal News
    Star-Ledger
    Associated Press
    Hollywood Reporter